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The CP3-Book connection - why it’s paying huge dividends for Devin Booker’s progression

There’s the young gun, and there’s the vet. Both though, continue to learn from each other each day.

Boston Celtics v Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Devin Booker looks comfortable on the basketball floor.

Not that he ever hasn’t from a physicality standpoint – the silky-smooth Kentucky product has a game that’s mature beyond his years – and that quality has shown ever since he stepped foot in the Valley after being selected by Phoenix with their 13th overall pick back in 2015.

It didn't take him long to fashion a resolute resume for himself upon touching down in Arizona’s urban heart.

He fit the city’s hard-nosed, no-nonsense attitude, with a drip and flair to his stylistic tendencies that made fans absolutely fall in love with his essence – both on and off the court.

And his rise has been meteoric.

He quickly went from first-class scorer his rookie year to preeminent franchise cornerstone in his sophomore campaign, and then crescendo’d once again in status after a vivacious 70-point display of shooting wizardry against the Celtics in March of ‘17. The performance cemented his name into a bevy of history books, including the highest points mark by far for a player his age, as well as an elevated reputation as one of the game’s most lethal bucket-getters – period.

Keep in mind – this was all before he reached the legal drinking age.

But despite his ease of competence in terms of scoring potency at the professional level, his Suns teams consistently underperformed.

They haven’t made a playoff appearance since Booker was christened with NBA regency on draft night. In fact, the lowly Suns have persistently scorched fan hopes to a near burnout – and their absence from postseason competition throughout the last decade is one of the longest droughts in the Western Conference.

The reason is simple: Booker’s been left stranded in the wind with virtually no help since the very beginning. And without a Robin to complement his Batman-like prowess, their chances for winning ascendence were practically dead on arrival.

Which is a sentiment that’s left Booker visibly frustrated as he’s carried the totaling weight of the franchise’s woes on his two shoulders. He hasn’t been shy in letting folks know about it either:

Book’s long been the central focal point – and oftentimes the lone focal point of opposing defenses who’ve held full knowledge of who’d be employed to beat them when matched up against Phoenix.

And for a player as competitive as D-Book is, that’s ate at him.

That is – until now.

James Jones’ well-coordinated Chris Paul trade this past offseason (which came just in the nick of time after Book led a stampede-esque 8-0 run through bubble competition at 2020’s close) was a godsend for the 24-year old phenom.

No longer would he be secluded to a solitary onliest role as play-orchestrator, shot-maker and win-creator. Booker was finally strapped with the ammunition he had desperately needed all along: a sidekick.

Not just any sidekick, though. I’m talking about a 10x All-Star, 7x All-Defensive performer, and future Hall of Famer.

The CP3-Book matrimony was one that gelled almost instantly after the two jumped the broom into wedlock.

Just days after the trade was announced, the two were seen shooting hoops at team owner Robert Sarver’s Arizona mansion.

A few days after that spotting, Paul was officially introduced as the squad’s latest addition.

Paul, along with newcomers Jae Crowder, E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway fortified the loose ends of a roster that was already oozing with starlet potential. But no fusion was more impactful than that of Paul and Booker’s.

The two men are both currently undergoing slides in scoring output, but Paul still remains amongst the league-leaders in assist numbers while keeping his shooting ratios efficient as ever (47% from the floor), and is dominating the association with a league-best 97.1% mark from the charity stripe.

Booker meanwhile, is taking less shots than normal (but he’s still close to his higher career marks) and boasts a grand 54% total on effective field goal attempts (a Basketball Reference summation that adjusts ratios based on 3-point FGs being worth more than 2s.)

Winning is the ultimate substantiation though, and its more than made up for their lesser statistical showcases.

On Booker and his new teammates, Paul had this to say:

“They’re teaching me at the same time too. I’m not just trying to come in here and teach. I’m (their) teammates. (Booker) is not only talented, he’s a dog. He’s really competitive.”

Booker on the other hand, is outwardly open about his willingness to learn from the battle-tested vet. When CP3 speaks, he listens.

It’s a sentiment that’s come to full blazing light.

The Suns are off to a rocketed start (15-9) and are more than holding their own at the fourth slot in the West. They have quality victories over the Celtics, Jazz, Nuggets and Raptors, and no win may have painted a more telling picture of the type of brilliance they can flash than their most recent one – over last season’s top-seeded troupe – the Milwaukee Bucks.

Both Book and Paul were composite basketball savants throughout the matchup. Their fingerprints were written all over the game, and coach Williams was able to dabble into differing lineups effortlessly with both players as his leading orchestrators. Booker looked completely unstoppable at times as he swerved and maneuvered his way to his spots, and Paul practically took over early fourth quarter possessions, serving as the designing architect behind a closing run that buried Giannis Antentokounmpo and company.

Booker’s usage rate remains in the top-tier league-wide at 29.8%, and his 116.85 offensive rating continues to guide his team from a shot-making standpoint. And don’t get me started on his catch and shoot mark: 69.8%.

What'd Drake say in Sicko Mode? Wet like I’m Book?

The catch-and-shoot mark is particularly eye-popping for ESPN’s latest cover story star. Why? Because he’s rarely had a chance to develop his off-ball artistry with the rock primarily in his hands so much in year’s past.

But Paul’s going to be handling the ball just as #1 much in Phoenix’s offense this year – if not more. Which allows Booker to do what it is that he does best on the floor: put the ball in the basket.

And even more important than his second-nature scoring prowess is this: Devin Booker can finally lift the mental strain that has come with being so heavily relied upon for winning off of his brain. For that reason alone, this fact is unequivocal: he looks more comfortable than ever on the hardwood.

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